“My grandfathers weren’t around when I came into the world. So, I invented one. As for grandmothers, I wasn’t very close to either of them. More than my grandmothers, it was their homes with which I had a great relationship!”

When cub reporter Krishang Udasi jumped into Madhuri Kamat’s book Flying With Grandpa, he couldn’t get over Mamavaji! His own Mamavaji being quite like the one in the book, he decided to quiz this amazing writer about her inspiration. Here’s what she had to say!

How did you think of the name Xerxes?

The name had to lend itself to a taunt and so I came up with Xerxes, which could become Xero and Xerox etc….and why did I think of Xerxes is because I am not very good with names and in my family I’m known as someone who can make something simple into something needlessly complicated like giving circuitous routes for directions instead of straight ones and inventing aflatoon new words for passwords which then naturally I can’t recollect! So, it’s no wonder that I came up with a name with two ‘x’, which are pronounced ‘z’!

Did you always think of making this a story about Parsis? I haven't read any other book featuring Parsis.

No, I didn’t always or ever think of making this a story about Parsis. As I said, the name came first and then I knew it’s a Parsi name so it became a Parsi story! I didn’t intend or really want it to be seen as a book featuring Parsis. In fact, I’m wondering why everyone’s talking about seeing it in terms of a story about Parsis! It’s a story of a family and an ageing grandparent, which happens to be set in a Parsi household. We tend to get stuck on names and communities. When we read Spiderman we don’t refer to his community. We say superhero story. Not that my book is anything like Spiderman, just saying! And it’s surprising that there aren’t more fiction books featuring Parsis given their immense contribution to the shaping of Bombay and their philanthropy. There’s so much fodder for stories there! Or I may be wrong. Often, there are books and we don’t have access to them because they’re not in English. Who knows if there’s some treasure trove of stories featuring Parsis in some other language just waiting to be discovered!

Why did his mom want Xerxes to become like JRD Tata and not any other great person from the Parsi community?

Because I was familiar with JRD Tata! On a more serious note, it’s because in her generation, it would be JRD Tata who would be seen as a pioneer. She also feels that there are similarities between JRD Tata’s mother and herself, which are elaborated in the story and hence wants her own son, too, to be like him.

But it’s interesting you ask why not any other great person? Imagine what a totally different direction the story would’ve taken if Xerxes wanted to model himself on “Hunterwali”, a film from yesteryears, played by stuntwoman Nadia! Sonji would have had a fit! Nadia was not a Parsi but was married to one - Homi Wadia who made films with his brother JBH Wadia under Wadia Movietone!! Before you ask, no, I’m not writing that story. It was idle speculation, which I love to indulge in much more than actual writing!

Why was Xerxes' mom so strict while his Mamavaji so loving?

Hmm. Sonji is based on an actual mother I saw as a child. You can read more on this on the Duckbill blog https://theduckbillblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/madhuri-kamat-interviewed-by-rustom-dadachanji/

But why are two people being compared at all? Sonji being strict doesn’t mean that she’s not loving or that Mamavaji being loving is not strict with Xerxes. For instance, he does pull up Xerxes for mimicking his mother. And who knows, maybe Mamavaji was very strict as a parent to Sonji! Equations change depending on roles and age. Being a grandfather is very different from being a mother. I feel that we want mothers to be portrayed in a certain way. I feel no matter how mothers are, they will never receive approval. For instance, if Sonji switched with Mamavaji, I’m sure her loving nature would be seen as spoiling Xerxes! It’s just perceptions I feel.

To try and answer the question, Sonji is strict with Xerxes because it’s a way of feeling in control because she feels helpless that her father’s getting very old. So, she projects all her anxieties about her father’s creeping illness on to Xerxes and wants him to excel as if to ward off what she can’t handle. That’s absolute rubbish, by the way! I like to sound like I know everything when I know zilch about why I write what I write! To put it simply, I’m not Sonji’s counsellor so I can’t really say why she is so strict! She just is!

Did you have a great relationship with your grandparents too?

My grandfathers weren’t around when I came into the world. So, I invented one. As for grandmothers, I wasn’t very close to either of them. More than my grandmothers, it was their homes with which I had a great relationship! From my mother’s side, my grandmother had this chawl room with all these dark corners and I’d scare myself silly imagining people lurking around waiting to jump at me! Then there was this board, a kind of slat near the door, which would be removed to shut the door only at night. I loved playing with it - pulling it up and letting it back down with a bang. Then my grandmother from my father’s side lived in a house in a small town that had a rope between floors and I had super fun swinging up on it or trying, too, as I was too small and I could barely reach. All these pursuits naturally got me a scolding from respective grandmothers!

What is the message that you want to send to people with your book?

I just wanted to write a witty story and make people smile. Smile. Okay. Please.

What new books are you writing now?

As someone said, “All writing is re-writing”. I’m usually dusting off old stories and trying to make them new! So, I’m basically jiggling and juggling a Marathi picture book, a series on a girl with a hatke mind, a short story collection and a non-fiction book for adults! The story of the hatke girl requires research into the subjects kids are studying so maybe I’ll come and interview you next!

Copyright: Book Trotters Club

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